I lived in Paignton between the ages 11 and 16. It was the early 70s. In fact I have just created a 70s playlist to accompany me as I write this piece. I am currently with The Eagles ‘Take it easy’; Neil Young, The Steve Miller Band, Bob Dylan, Supertramp, Thin Lizzy and the Vapours are all on their way!

So when I visited earlier this week there was a nostalgic video of teenage high (and low) lights playing in my head. In fact, many of the memories of actual events were also jumbled up with memories of more recent dreams of the streets, parks and areas of Paignton I frequented. This fragmented video track was stimulated by my route through the town and down to the seafront. Of course it all appeared a lot smaller than it used to be and a lot less busy.

I parked at the back of the town centre park, close to where I recall the library used to be. As a kid I visited this many times and still check out books in my dreams. But the library was long gone, in place was a new development of retirement flats. I wandered on through the park, remembering the shortcut to the seafront I used to whizz through on my bike. This was all much as it used to be, but with an absence of ducks.

My summer memories of Paignton seafront are of a beach and lawned area rammed with grockles (tourists). Often there was hardly a patch of grass or sand to be had by lunch time. This time I wandered through and found it busy, but with plenty of space. Once down on the front I found the photography flowed. I felt comfortable, at home amongst familiar scenes, and I believe that the photos below carry some of that warmth, as well as a curiosity to capture the British tourist at play.

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My ongoing exploration of creating abstract photos of people promenading around Swansea Bay has recently been illuminated by our summer sunshine. After the last set, taken at a difficult time on a dank day, I thought I would share the latest, more upbeat, examples.

These were taken at a cafe that sits on the promenade near my entrance onto Swansea Bay. The cafe seats are perhaps a little closer to the subjects promenading than in other examples and I had to dial down the aperture a little as it was so bright. Which one is your favourite?

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I was feeling a little dazed this morning. An early rise and ragged breathing left me with a sense of disconnectedness. As I had to take Taylor to work in Mumbles I thought I would change my routine, drop him off and then do a mindful photography practice to ground me.

The ‘Film Style’ practice is a space, time and feature limited photo activity. Its aim is to create 24 photos (a là film) on your digital camera using as many manual features as you feel comfortable using. The key ingredient is that you turn off your review screen so that you cannot see the photos as you take them. This replicates the idea that film photography generates, that by not seeing what you are creating you only have your viewfinder/screen to guide you, and you know you will not be able to see the result. This encourages a slower, more considered pace of photography, allowing you to tune in to your current experience and particularly the visual experience.

If you have a DSLR or CSC with viewfinder you can also tape up or turn off the screen, so you only compose the photo through the viewfinder. Where the lens or camera allows, you can also choose to turn off the auto focus and only manually focus the lens. This further supports an attentiveness to the practice.

The Practice

Choose a small area, no bigger than 100 x 100 metres. When you arrive sit in the space and pay attention to your sensory information. What can you feel, smell, touch, hear and see? When you feel you have completely arrived start to move around your environment following the 4 stage seeing practice.

Create 24 photos. No more, no less. Keeping count in your head is a practice in itself! When you have 24 photos (or think you have) leave your space and return home. Do not look at your photos until you get home.

Editing

When I download and review the photos I initially select in. Rather than excluding the ones I don’t like, I select the ones I do like, often on an instinctive reaction. Out of 24 I would hope to have at least 5 I would like to share. Editing wise I do very little. Some minor cropping and a little light adjustment to replicate how I felt when I originally saw the scene.

Here are my favourite photos from this morning’s practice. Which one is your favourite?

I don’t have any photos of Wasp Fest for you. Shame. Unfortunately, I had to cancel as my breathing became challenging – I have now embarked on a course of steroids for relief and things are beginning to ease.

Instead of driving to Somerset for a groovy festival, I drove to Mumbles to sulk and take gloomy photos. The continual fine rain suited my mood and I instinctively reverted to an ongoing project – The Promenaders. This is inspired by the photographer Isobella Berr and involves the use of my 50mm lens, a f1.4 aperture and manual de-focus.

I love the curved people like shapes created and this was the first time I had experimented on a dull, wet day. What do you think?

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Eric Kim is a passionate street photographer and prolific blogger based in Berkeley, California. I found his blog when looking for photographers who combined photography with a philosophic approach to life. It was probably through some random google search combining photography and zen, and Eric tumbled out.

Eric’s blog is a well of wisdom for the street photographer and is underpinned by his belief in open source photography, which basically means that he believes in sharing, for free, all of his knowledge and resources. His mission is ‘to spread and promote the love of street photography’. And boy does he do that!

In addition to his regular posts he offers a number of free e books, covering topics including: an introduction to street photography, street portraits, overcoming fear of street photography, a social media overview and my particular favourite, Zen in the Art of Street Photography. Eric describes this as “a compilation of all of my favorite articles on Zen, Taoism, Buddhism, gratitude, and other random philosophical musings.” It is an intriguing and thought provoking read.

However, the best starting point is this page which shares: the e book links, a free online introductory course, videos, popular and must read articles, posts on master street photographers, composition, philosophy, equipment, marketing, business, travelling, recommended books, other blogs, collectives, movies, laws, Flickr groups and the Streettogs Academy. That is some list huh?

The last item, Streettogs, is a Facebook group for doing, sharing and commenting on street photography assignments. It also has separate pages for discussion, critique and equipment.

I have always been drawn to the challenges and life of street photography. It is not something I have done enough of and would certainly be something I could develop as a mindful project. Thanks to Eric and his marvelous blog, I will have any question that I might have answered.

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These lilies were collected by Beci from her parent’s garden (at least they get to appreciate them now from the comfort of their Spanish computer). I thought I would try and create some photos that celebrated the lilies flamboyance and delicacy.

For those who are interested in these things: I used a 50mm lens with a reversing ring, which turns it into macro lens with a very shallow depth of field. Great for adding some mystery to the beauty.

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The Activity

This photography activity is inspired by my friend Mel’s ‘Walk/Listen/Respond Project’. I have taken Mel’s base rules and adapted then for my needs!

My rules are: [1] Plan an album length walk. [2] Choose an album to match your mood/weather/walk/whatever. [3] Walk. [4] Respond to the music intuitively. Let it play through you. Create photos that reflect how the music makes you feel. [5] Edit photos whilst listening to same album. [6] Share your favourites.

The Album

I chose to listen to War, Peace and Diplomacy by Tom Hickox and you can listen here.  I love his soothing, deep voice and thought it would be uplifting. I was forgetting the title of the album! Whilst the songs are tales of war, peace and diplomacy and the overall tone is somewhat melancholic, there are also themes of love and hope. Phew.

I didn’t set out to create a photo for each song. More to allow the music to flow through me; the words seeping into my subconscious and the melodies into my bones. from there I simply responded to the visual stimulation.

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I use photography as a practice for mindfulness. As mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, creating a photograph can provide many practices that enable us to connect with what we can see, what the camera can see and what we feel or a feeling that we wish to convey.

Recently, I have not been well and have been living through one of life’s difficult periods. I haven’t felt very creative until the last couple of days, when I have started to carry my little camera around with me again.

The two photos below I was drawn to create as they seemed to speak of how I felt. When we choose to create a photograph that illustrates an emotion the visual connection can be a very personal experience. That is all that is required. If the viewer also experiences particular feelings when the see the photo that is a bonus.

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Here are my favourite photos from a 1 hour mindful photography practice in London last weekend. The anchor I returned to when my mind got busy was ‘seeing colour’.

Looking at the photos today I am reminded of how I felt when I was there. The traffic noise, constant movement and speed, merged with iconic ideas of London: the red buses, black taxis, joggers in the mayhem, tall office blocks, ambulances on alert and people just going about their business. I didn’t find these photos they found me. Sometimes unerringly.

You will have to excuse me I am from the dreary provinces 😉

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The moment you pick up a camera there are decisions to be made. As a photographer you spend minutes, hours and years learning the basics, developing your experience and finding your voice. Throughout this process decision making is central and yet often our favourite photos are taken instinctively, when the decision to press the shutter at the decisive moment, is seemingly taken for us. Let me explain.

The Wedding Photo

I’ll start with a photo. A while back, whilst working as a wedding photographer, I had to complete the formal photos in a hotel bedroom. I had just managed to squeeze in the bride and groom photos after the ceremony before the rains, whipped along by a strong wind, drove us all inside.

The hotel offered us an empty hotel bedroom. A pretty sterile environment, but at least it was dry. I remember opening all the blinds, turning on all the lights and noting that I could bounce flash off the white ceiling to at least get some half decent lighting. This was my least favourite part of the event and it was not quite what I had hoped for.

However, the decision making was straight forward. After having sorted the light I chose a mid range aperture and appropriate ISO to ensure I would get a shutter speed of 1/100. I was ready. Then all I had to do was arrange the guests in their chosen groups and take the photos.

At some stage during the movement from one group to another I took the photo below. I had no recollection of taking the photo, of composing it or changing anything on the camera. When I first saw it after scanning through the photos taken I laughed. ‘When did that happen?’ I thought. I had taken the photo on instinct. You could say, ‘I was in the zone.’

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Getting out of the way

As photographers we are in the zone when we are able to apply everything we know, see all the opportunities and create fantastic photos intuitively. Such moments are rare, but we know that they are the product of both hard work, study and practice, and an ability to relax into the moment. To let go of our attachment to the outcome and to allow ourselves to get out of the way, so that the decisions are taken on an almost sub-conscious level.

Trying to make this happen rarely works. I imagine that masters of their craft experience it more often. However, I have many more hours practice before I reach that position. Malcom Gladwell in his book Outliers, suggests that mastery of any skill takes at least 10,000 hours practice. That seems a way off. If I practiced for 2 hours a day, every day it would take nearly 14 years. Ah well, I shall just keep at it, enjoying the journey and maybe along the way such moments will occur with increasing regularity.